One of the most recent arguments circulating social media has frankly gotten all up in the, “Ain’t THIS some shit?!” area of my mind. So as usual, I am going to bring it to you all, comrades.
Ain’t THIS Some Shit?!
Recently a piece surfaced on Time.com titled, “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture,” where the author speaks very generally yet deliberately about how Black people can’t have ANYTHING in our society (and you KNOW I think that is true), that even the things we use to enjoy life, such as [our] music/dance/clothing++ preferences have been co-opted and appropriated into white hegemonic culture, and even goes as far as to try and lay out a basic explanation of what this hegemonic culture is! Soon after this, the other shoe drops, and another piece surfaces on Time.com titled, “Dear Black Women: White Gays Are Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away,” where the author very forcefully pushes his allyship down our throats. In the midst of the retorts in this piece are a range of violent acts. First, the author appeals to the Gays (monolith style) by making sure the readers all know that the original piece has already been torn to bits for its homo-ignorance. The author then moves on to say, ‘not ALL white gays!’ all the while unapologetically equating the White Gay Monolith’s historical struggles to the Black Female Monolith’s historical struggles. Generally ends the piece soon after that by making sure to tell us all that we have definitely won the sweepstakes of oppression by a landslide, and alludes to the old adage, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”
*Oh yeah, did I remember to tell you all that this author (a White Gay Male) equates the original piece’s author and her argument (a Black Female) to a dog, by saying, “Mannie can bark at the gay white universe to lay off, but an appealing means of expression and art are the ultimate in open-source culture.” That will not help your case for allyship, sir. Not. One. Bit.
What I see going on here is a bunch of miscommunication, hasty generalization, and EGREGIOUS use of hegemonic power and privilege.
Blood, Sex, Tears, and Identity Politics
So now, I’m going to briefly run through a few major things that stick out to me regarding these pieces. First of all, it is NEVER EVER a great idea to include sweeping generalizations in ANY type of argument centered on identity! Well, it’s typically not a good practice, but ESPECIALLY horrible when discussing issues of identity. Black Females and White Gay Males are not monoliths!! Oh my goodness, I couldn’t believe what I was READING. The first author tends to generalize that seemingly every person identifying as white/gay/male appropriates the hard stereotypes of The Black Female. Not true. The second author tends to generalize that seemingly every person that identifies as black/female are pushing their “truest ally” away, and that everyone identifying as black/female all like the same things and feel the same way! No. no. no. NO.
Secondly, what the fuck happened to those of us who identify as black queer, gay, and/or trans females? We were QUICKLY relegated to our space of silence and invisibility. I mean, at LEAST the first author spoke more directly at a targeted audience, though I didn’t appreciate her speaking on behalf of ALL of us. Maybe the second author had nothing to say to Black queer, gay, and/or trans women. Maybe he was trying to imply the audience based on the original piece he linked to. Regardless, this negation is a result of the hasty generalizations I saw happening on both parts.
Also, how can we not SEE hegemony functioning and thriving here? I mean excuse me, but what is the point of telling someone what identity they can and cannot, “have,” as though it is something tangible, something static and unchanging? By claiming these identities in such ways, it is furthering the thing we should be resisting… appropriation. Now, I’m not saying that no one has the right to claim certain characteristics or qualities and use them to develop an identity, but what I am saying is what I have been saying for such a long time (and earlier in this post), IDENTITY IS NOT STATIC. Identity groups and labels ARE NOT MONOLITHIC. By claiming all Black females are like this, or all white gay males are like that IS ONLY PROVIDING MORE FOOD for the hegemonic beast to devour and spit out for its own purpose of SILENCING the already marginalized and subjugated! Not only are we going to be marginalized because we aren’t perpetuating the white supremacist heteronormative patriarchal hegemony, but by providing these static images of “Black Female” and “White Gay Male,” we render ourselves violable to further subjugation on the basis of not being the “right” kind of “Black female” or “White Gay Male”! There are SO many multiplicitous identities going on within social groups, why would we want to minimize, hyper-generalize, and perpetuate our own subjugation by having these pieces represent our communities to normativity?
And lastly, I think you know what I’m about to discuss, the murky business of allyship. I’m not going to get too specific about my reaction to the second author’s take on allyship. What I will say, is that his stance on allyship is a seemingly PERFECT example of why we need to address the term and the role of allies, because yes, this too has been co-opted by hegemony. I find that when we use language like “allyship” and being an “ally” we are able to reside in a grey area of non-action and good intent. Allyship is also stemming from a place of privilege, and that place of privilege is on a slippery slope, where if you are not careful, can turn into a place of ignorance and discrimination. For example,
There is no question white gays have intrinsic advantages over black women in American society. Sure, we’ve taken our lumps, but black women certainly win the sweepstakes of oppression by a landslide…
…But we’re [White Gay Males] here now, and we’re natural allies. The mutual fondness between so many black women and white gay men arises both from similar, if not shared, experience, but also a strikingly similar approach to coping with it…
…Still, cultural alliances like this are rare and should be treasured, not chastised. Black men didn’t have one. Neither did Jews or Native Americans. Arab Americans sure don’t. But through some fluke of cosmic association, black women have kindred spirits in white gay men. Don’t push us away.”
So, yes. I think that it’s time to readdress the term allyship and what it really means CURRENTLY. However, if we are going to still entertain the notion of allyship, then I think it wise to take note of this very pertinent advice from Mia McKenzie (Editor-In-Chief of the awesome blog Black Girl Dangerous) on what you NEED to be doing as an ally:
1. Shutting up and listening.
2. Educating yourself ((you could start with the thousands of books and websites that already exist and are chock full of damn near everything anyone needs to know about most systems and practices of oppression)
3. When it’s time to talk, not talking over the people you claim to be in solidarity with accepting feedback/criticism about how your “allyship” is causing more harm than good without whitesplaining/mansplaining/whateversplaining
4. Shutting up and listening some more
5. Supporting groups, projects, orgs, etc. run by and for marginalized people so our voices get to be the loudest on the issues that effect us
6. Not expecting marginalized people to provide emotional labor for you
Now, this is an abridged version of McKenzie’s very important work. I think you should check out the full version of this important stuff!
When stuff like these Time.com pieces are sensationalized, I always think about who it really is benefiting, and who it subjugates. Typically it benefits normativity and further subjugates those who are already relegated to silence. We need to DISRUPT the hegemonic flow, not strengthen it!
You are not STATIC.
You are not a MONOLITH.
Neither is the PERPETUATION and CIRCULATION of normative POWER.
Until Next Time, Comrades,